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Bush Chooses Rice

Aired November 16, 2004 - 16:30   ET


ANNOUNCER: CROSSFIRE. On the left, James Carville and Paul Begala; on the right, Robert Novak and Tucker Carlson.

In the CROSSFIRE: President Bush has chosen Condi Rice, one of his most loyal advisers, to be his next secretary of state.

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: The secretary of state is America's face to the world, and in DR. Rice the world will see the strength, the grace and the decency of our country.

CONDOLEEZZA RICE, NATIONAL SECURITY ADVISER: Mr. President, it is an honor to be asked to serve your administration and my country once again. And it is humbling to imagine succeeding my dear friend and mentor Colin Powell.

ANNOUNCER: As national security adviser, she took a hard line on Iraq. Just how big a role did she play in the administration's successes and failures there? What does her selection mean for the overall direction of U.S. foreign policy?



ANNOUNCER: Live from the George Washington University, Paul Begala and Robert Novak.


PAUL BEGALA, CO-HOST: Hello, everybody. Welcome to CROSSFIRE.

President Bush did indeed name Dr. Condoleezza Rice as his choice for secretary of state today. As national security adviser, Dr. Rice, of course, presided over two of the greatest national security disasters in American history, 9/11 and the war in Iraq. But, as George W. Bush himself demonstrates, incompetence is not a bar to advancement.

ROBERT NOVAK, CO-HOST: The president continues to make history and defy the Democrats' expectation in choosing Condoleezza Rice. There will be no doubt around the world that this secretary of state has the ear of the president.

Now, while some Democrats will inevitably cry foul over President Bush's choice, they might want to consult the results of this month's election to see who gets to pick the Cabinet.

Now the best little political briefing in television, our CROSSFIRE "Political Alert."

Senator Arlen Specter met today with fellow Republicans on the Senate Judiciary Committee in an unaccepted -- unaccustomed posture, contrition. The five-term senator from Pennsylvania is usually called arrogant, rather than contrite. But now he's telling colleagues he really didn't mean what he said after his reelection this year. He did say any pro-life Supreme Court justice nominated by President Bush was not going to get confirmed.

But when those words triggered a grassroots movement to deny him the chairmanship of the Judiciary Committee, he started backpedaling and is still at it. His fellow senators want to make him beg and plead all the time worrying that Arlen, being Arlen, will betray them in the end.

BEGALA: Well, I think it's President Bush and other conservatives who have betrayed the pro-life conservatives.

You were on this before anybody, Bob. I will give you credit. As a reporter, you spotted the primary fight that Specter had a conservative Republican who ran against him, a pro-lifer, and the president helped to reelect Specter. So who did he think he was getting when he supported a pro-choice Republican in Pennsylvania? Now he's got a pro-choice Republican to deal with.

NOVAK: The problem with Arlen Specter right now is that he thinks that he's going to get out there. He's going to be some kind of a judge as a chairman of the Judiciary Committee. And he's being told by the majority leader that he has to hew the line.


NOVAK: Now, whether he will or not, I don't know.

BEGALA: Well, we will watch to see. I can't wait to see that story continue to develop.

Well, on a more serious matter, 38 Americans have died since the assault on Fallujah, which was postponed to help President Bush's reelection. British officials tell CNN that the woman who runs CARE, the charity group in Iraq, has been murdered. Five Americans were wounded in a car bombing in Mosul, another American soldier killed in an attack near Baghdad, bringing total American deaths in Iraq to 1,197.

And Hungary, mighty Hungary, is no longer willing to be in President Bush's coalition of the willing. Its parliament has voted to withdraw its 300 noncombat troops from Iraq by the end of the year. So, who's in charge of this debacle? Well, for more than a year, Condoleezza Rice has been in charge of Iraq policy. So putting her in charge of the State Department now is a little like putting the captain of the Exxon Valdez in charge of the Energy Department.


NOVAK: Well, you know, Paul, we do have a democratic system in this country. And all this blather that you've been spewing out here for months, the American people had a chance to look it over, and they elected President Bush to another term for 3.5 million votes. So why don't you get over it and say, hey, the American people say let's finish this in Iraq?


BEGALA: Never, never, never, never, never.


NOVAK: Democratic senators met today to prepare for the lame- duck post-election session of Congress. But there seemed to be one stranger inside their caucus. Who is that tall, thin man with the long face? Oh, yes, they remembered. It was somebody they hadn't seen all year, John Kerry. He's still a senator.

But what to do with him? He's not a member of the leadership. He's not even the ranking Democratic on a major committee. He's never been much of a legislator. Senate Democrat leader Harry Reid said today, "We are looking for John Kerry to find what he wants to do."

Harry, what he really wanted to do was denied him by the American people.

BEGALA: Yes, it was. But my sources tell me who are close to Senator Kerry that he has over $25 million left over from that campaign. He's likely to set up a political action committee and be very, very active in elections across the country. And I think that's a terrific thing for the Democratic Party.

NOVAK: Well, why doesn't he get out of the Senate and do it, then? He is talking about, he's going to work on health care. He's going to work on foreign policy. He's never done any work in the Senate in his life. He's been in the Senate to run for president, and now that's gone.


BEGALA: Wait a minute. The people of Massachusetts put him there, Bob. I thought you were very big on honoring the people's choice of President Bush.


BEGALA: Let's honor the people's choice of Senator Kerry.

Well, a major new study by Yale University says that about 4,000 lives a year could be saved if America would reduce ozone air pollution -- that is smog -- by just 35 percent. The study examined 95 American cities which are home to 40 percent of the entire U.S. population. Now, the Natural Resources Defense Council notes that air pollution causes lung disease and cancer. It poisons rivers and lakes, damages trees and kills wildlife.

So, even if you don't care about the Americans who live in our biggest cities, air pollution is killing off the ability of my fellow hunters and fishermen to enjoy the outdoors, something to think about this deer season, guys. Of course, the Bush administration is doing something about the current levels of air pollution. It's making them worse.



BEGALA: President Bush's Orwellian named Blue Skies Initiative would actually gut existing regulations in favor of corporate polluters. I just wonder, is that what my fellow deer hunters voted for?


NOVAK: You know, I've been hearing this propaganda from you tree huggers for years.



NOVAK: And, as a matter of fact, I've broken the code on this.

It's the elitists just hate the idea of Americans driving their SUVs, of driving cars. I drive a sport car. And what you want is everybody to take public transportation, while you rich guys roll around in your limousine.


BEGALA: No, I want to hunt and fish. I want to hunt and fish without Bush's corporate polluters poisoning the water and the air. That's all I want.

Well, President Bush wants something else. He wants Condi Rice to be his secretary of state. He is likely to get it. Next, we will debate what led Mr. Bush to choose Dr. Rice. Was it the fact that she ignored warnings before 9/11? Maybe was it her management of the occupation and the rebuilding of Iraq? We'll examine all of that and more.

And the search is on for presidential candidates in 2008. One name already being floated is a real star, a genuine star, a huge star, and he's not Arnold Schwarzenegger. We will tell you who later in CROSSFIRE.


ANNOUNCER: Join Carville, Begala, Carlson and Novak in the CROSSFIRE. For free tickets to CROSSFIRE at the George Washington University, call 202-994-8CNN or visit our Web site. Now you can step into the CROSSFIRE.



NOVAK: Condoleezza Rice is highly qualified to serve as secretary of state. She's extremely competent, dignified and very smart. Best of all, she's not Madeleine Albright. But you can bet that won't stop the Democrats from whining about her nomination.

Here to discuss the president's choice for secretary of state, two members of the Florida delegation to the House of Representatives, Democrat Robert Wexler, Republican Ileana Ros-Lehtinen.


BEGALA: Thank you both for joining us.

Congresswoman Ros-Lehtinen...


BEGALA: ... Bob mentioned a lot of attributes of Dr. Rice's. Let me suggest two more. She's incompetent and dishonest. Let me start with incompetence.

ROS-LEHTINEN: That is so, oh -- that is unbelievable.

BEGALA: Well, let me prove it. Let me prove it out.

ROS-LEHTINEN: I mean, that's so low.


BEGALA: The president of the United States put her personally in charge of the occupation and rebuilding of Iraq.

Here is how "USA Today" reported it October 6 of 2003.

ROS-LEHTINEN: Unbelievable.

BEGALA: "President Bush is giving his national security adviser, Condoleezza Rice, the authority to manage postwar Iraq and the rebuilding of Afghanistan. Rice will head the Iraq Stabilization Group, which will have coordinating committees on counterterrorism, economic development, political affairs, media messages. Each committee will be headed by a Rice deputy and include representatives of the State, Defense, Treasury and CIA."

BEGALA: So, how she done so far in managing the occupation?

ROS-LEHTINEN: She's done a great job.

BEGALA: It's a disaster.

(CROSSTALK) ROS-LEHTINEN: That's what you think.

BEGALA: Yes, ma'am.

ROS-LEHTINEN: However, when you look at what we've accomplished in the time that we've been in Iraq, we're going to be having elections in January.

As a refugee from an oppressed country, a communist country, in Cuba, I know what it's like to suddenly have freedom at hand. And, yes, it's a difficult, difficult road. As President Bush said, it's hard work.

BEGALA: And you know what a botched invasion looks like. And that is what this has been.

ROS-LEHTINEN: No, no, no, absolutely not.

And I think that Robert is right. The American people spoke. It doesn't mean that this November election that everyone said, hey, what we're doing in Iraq, we're 100 percent in favor of it. But they said it was wrong to change presidents in time of war. It's a difficult situation there. And our guys and gals are doing a great job. Condoleezza Rice is very qualified. It's great to be witty, but don't be low, like what you said.



ROS-LEHTINEN: She's a great lady.

NOVAK: Of all the comments I've heard today, the only person who says that she's incompetent and dishonest is Paul. So I'm going to ignore that.

ROS-LEHTINEN: Unbelievable.

NOVAK: The argument -- the argument I hear all the time -- and I think it's loony, but I'll respect it -- is -- the argument was made by Senator Jay Rockefeller of West Virginia. Let's hear what he just said a half-hour ago on CNN's "INSIDE POLITICS."


SEN. JAY ROCKEFELLER (D), WEST VIRGINIA: People who work in the State Department really want their secretary to stand up for them, to represent also their points of view, not exclusively their points of view, but also their points of view.

And so I have the question. Is she going to do that or is she going to simply be an appendage to the White House?


NOVAK: Congressman, he went on to say that she should be independent of the president. Surely, you don't think that the secretary of state should be the representative of the foreign service officers and not the president of the United States?

REP. ROBERT WEXLER (D), FLORIDA: No, should represent the president and the American people.

But I think maybe the best argument that I saw made today was actually made by a brilliant writer in "The Chicago Sun-Times," none other than you, Mr. Novak.


WEXLER: And, inadvertently, you pointed out the problem with Dr. Rice.

And that is, you said she is distrusted in foreign capitals around the world. At a time when this president ought to be building up international support for our policy in Iraq -- whether we think it's a failure or a success, we want a bigger international presence. We need more help with Iran. We need more help with Iran -- with North Korea.

And you, yourself, say, Dr. Rice has no credibility in the foreign capitals.

NOVAK: Well...

WEXLER: How can that be the best choice for secretary of state?


NOVAK: Congratulations on your research.


NOVAK: But that, to me, was an asset. If she's distrusted by the French and the Russians, that is a plus for her.


NOVAK: But let me go on this. We've had a lot of secretaries of states in American history who didn't get along with their president. William Jennings Bryan quit under Wilson. Cyrus Vance quit under Jimmy Carter. Al Haig quite under Ronald Reagan.

But Richard N. Haass, who is the president of the Council on Foreign Relations, a real member of foreign policy establishment, he said: "If the president thinks she's the best choice, I'd almost say by definition she is. It's important that the president feels comfortable with the secretary of state." Do you agree with that?

WEXLER: Well, that may be. But the Senate also under our Constitution has the right to review and to vote on whether or not they agree. And we all have the right to discuss foreign policy and determine whether or not Dr. Rice will advance the interests of the United States as well as others could have. The president could have reached out to the world and been consistent to his own principles by taking somebody like Ambassador Danforth or Senator Lugar. He could have taken old, seasoned hands at foreign policy to reassure the world. And what he's done is, he hasn't increased our credibility one bit.

And you know what? Paul's not wrong. She didn't tell the truth before the 9/11 Commission when she spoke about Iraq's nuclear capability on the aluminum tubes that they went out to purchase, when she was advised a year before that it had nothing to do with a nuclear plan.


BEGALA: Well, and in fact...

ROS-LEHTINEN: Come on. Come on.

BEGALA: One of her defenses -- one of her defenses when she was accused of misleading, one of her defenses was incompetence. This is the White House describing her.

Let me read you what the White House says. In the White House briefing room, on July 18, 2003, a senior administration official speaking to reporters on the condition of anonymity said Dr. Rice did not read October's national intelligence estimate on Iraq, the definitive prewar assessment of Iraq's weapons programs by U.S. intelligence agencies.

Now, isn't that incompetence if the security adviser doesn't read the principal document?

ROS-LEHTINEN: No, Paul. You know, every time I come to this show, you point out yet another document that yet another Cabinet official or that the president did not read. There are reams of documents.

And yet whatever one that they have not read is the one that you point out to, oh, this is the definitive paper they didn't read.

BEGALA: The White House says -- with all due respect, Congresswoman, the White House says this is definitive.

ROS-LEHTINEN: No, this is the definitive paper. No, this is the one.



ROS-LEHTINEN: Whatever it is.

BEGALA: So that's OK? So, seriously, so, you're not troubled?




BEGALA: You're not troubled? Let me ask the question.


ROS-LEHTINEN: We have had this discussion so many times. And the American people spoke. They said, the president did not lie. Colin Powell did not lie. Dr. Rice did not lie. They were relying on the same intelligence...

BEGALA: And there's an Easter Bunny.




ROS-LEHTINEN: They are relying on the same intelligence that every other intelligence organization was relying on.

BEGALA: How can they rely on it if they don't read it?

ROS-LEHTINEN: Oh, come on, Paul. You always do this.

BEGALA: She said she didn't read it. It's incompetence.

ROS-LEHTINEN: They didn't read...


WEXLER: The problem is deeper than that.

The 9/11 Commission essentially said that Dr. Rice was inattentive to the threat of terror in the United States. Of almost 100 meetings that the principals had before 9/11, only two were devoted to the topic of terror. And then when she came before the commission, she said there was no information about a strike in America, and then we found out otherwise.


ROS-LEHTINEN: No, you guys attacked Colin Powell when he was secretary, and he is still the secretary of state. And, in fact, what the polls indicate, he's one of the most respected men of our nation.

WEXLER: Agreed.

ROS-LEHTINEN: You attacked him then. You're attacking Dr. Rice.

There will never be a perfect candidate for you for secretary of state as long as that person is a Republican.

(CROSSTALK) ROS-LEHTINEN: That's it. That's your criteria.

WEXLER: No. If the president was wise enough to choose you, I would have applauded.



WEXLER: I would have applauded.

NOVAK: Congressman Wexler, if you were sitting in the Senate -- and I guess you would rather be sitting in the Senate than not be sitting in the Senate.

WEXLER: It's the same pay.


NOVAK: You would -- you would obviously vote against Condoleezza Rice.

But the senior -- now he's going to be the senior senator from Florida, Democrat Bill Nelson, only one of four Democratic senators out of the 22 from the Southern states, only -- he's one of the last of the Mohicans. This is what he said about Rice's reception in the Senate: "I think it will be genuinely warm. The Congress knows her. The Senate has had enumerable briefings, most of them in a classified fashion with her. She's well-known. She's obviously capable."

Has Senator Bill Nelson taken leave of his senses?


Senator Nelson will make his decision based on the facts.

NOVAK: He's already made it.

WEXLER: The facts -- the facts that I see is that we have a security adviser who is weak. She didn't handle the conflicts between the agencies very well. We have a security adviser that failed to tell the truth before the 9/11 Commission.


NOVAK: What is wrong with Senator Nelson? He's had more dealings with her than you have. Why is he so wrong?

WEXLER: Well, some of my best friends sometimes are wrong. This may be a case where I would respectfully disagree. But the point is, the president was reelected. And we had hoped that, rather than divide the country up again, rather...

NOVAK: OK, we're going to have to take a break.

WEXLER: Yes. NOVAK: And next, in "Rapid Fire," we'll ask if Colin Powell should take one congressman's suggestion and go head to head with Hillary Clinton.

And a televised award show turns into a brawl. Wolf Blitzer shows us what happened next.


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: I'm Wolf Blitzer in Washington.

Coming up at the top of the hour, President Bush nominates Condoleezza Rice to be secretary of state. Will the U.S. Senate confirm her? We'll talk to a member of the Foreign Relations Committee.

Grim news about Margaret Hassan, why officials have now concluded that CARE International's Iraq director probably is dead.

And fists were flying at last night's Vibe Awards, which honors the best in urban entertainment. We'll tell you how it all started.

All those stories, much more, only minutes away on "WOLF BLITZER REPORTS."

Now back to CROSSFIRE.

BEGALA: Thank you, Wolf. We look forward to your report.

Time now here for our "Rapid Fire" segment, quick questions, quick answers, almost as quick as the turnover in the Bush Cabinet.


BEGALA: The topic today, nomination of Dr. Condoleezza Rice to be America's secretary of state.

Still with us, Republican Congresswoman from Florida Ileana Ros- Lehtinen and Democratic Congressman, also from Florida, Robert Wexler.

NOVAK: Mr. Wexler, one of your colleagues in House, Vito Fossella, Republican of New York, says that Colin Powell should run in New York against Hillary Clinton. That would be the end of Hillary Clinton, wouldn't it?

WEXLER: I don't think so. I have an enormous amount of respect for Colin Powell, but I think Hillary Clinton would be more than a match for him. And I would bet on Hillary.

NOVAK: Powell has never -- he doesn't live in New York. I thought you couldn't run in New York if you didn't live there.

ROS-LEHTINEN: Well, wait a minute. Wait a minute.



BEGALA: Little joke there.


BEGALA: Little joke. Before the 9/11...

ROS-LEHTINEN: He'll go on a listening tour.


BEGALA: Before the 9/11 Commission, Dr. Rice said that there was nothing in the August 6 presidential daily briefing that indicated -- I'm quoting her here -- "a threat of attack in the United States."

When asked to give the title of that briefing, it was, "Bin Laden Determined to Attack in the United States." Was she telling the truth?


ROS-LEHTINEN: With no specific -- no, no, no, no. We've -- no, we've been through that before. With no specific information as to a specific attack, if the president...

BEGALA: That is not what she said.

ROS-LEHTINEN: If Condoleezza Rice, as national security adviser, would have had a press conference that said, hey, guys, we're about to be attacked, we don't know where, we don't know how, we don't know when, we don't know why, get ready, I mean, that -- then you would have been saying she's causing a panic.

WEXLER: That's what Tom Ridge does once a week.



ROS-LEHTINEN: No, no, no, no. That's ridiculous.


ROS-LEHTINEN: She was being cautious and that's the way to do it.

NOVAK: Since you don't like Condoleezza Rice, do you think the president would have done better to pick Joe Lieberman?

WEXLER: Sure. Joe Lieberman's great. I like Condoleezza Rice.

ROS-LEHTINEN: You can tell.

WEXLER: She just shouldn't be secretary of state.

ROS-LEHTINEN: You can tell, yes. NOVAK: I can tell how much you like it.

BEGALA: I don't because I don't like being misled. She told the country that the aluminum tubes...


NOVAK: This is supposed to be the "Rapid Fire," not a speech.

ROS-LEHTINEN: No, no, no, no.

BEGALA: ... they're only really suited for nuclear weapons. A year before, her staff had been briefed that that wasn't the case. Was she lying?


ROS-LEHTINEN: No. Come on.

She's not a liar. She's not any of those terrible words that you've attributed to her.


ROS-LEHTINEN: My golly, she's a very qualified individual who is going to do a great job and represent our country well. She's a great American. She will be a wonderful secretary of state.

NOVAK: We're out of time.


NOVAK: Congresswoman Ros-Lehtinen, thank you.

ROS-LEHTINEN: Thank you.

NOVAK: Congressman Wexler, thank you.

It looks like leftist propagandist Michael Moore has picked his presidential candidate for 2008. Here's a hint. Moore's choice is an actor, but he's not Arnold. Find out who he is next.



NOVAK: If you've seen any of Michael Moore's propaganda films, you know he's not shy about giving himself any plenty of face time. In fact, it's quite clear that, unlike the rest of America, Michael Moore thinks quite highly of Michael Moore.

So, you would be excused if you were to guess that Moore might just fancy himself as an excellent candidate for president of the United States. But it turns out that the left-wing filmmaker is actually trying to draft left-wing actor Tom Hanks to run in 2008. Moore says Hanks could be the Democratic Schwarzenegger. A spokesman for Hanks says it will never happen.

I have just got one thing to say. Please, no more for Moore.

BEGALA: Well, I didn't know Tom Hanks was left-wing. I'm glad to hear that. He is America's Jimmy Stewart these days, this -- would you vote for Tom Hanks, do you think, guys?


BEGALA: Take note, Tom.

NOVAK: Jimmy Stewart was a Republican.

BEGALA: From the left, I am Paul Begala. That's it for CROSSFIRE.

NOVAK: From the right, I'm Robert Novak. Join us again next time for another edition of CROSSFIRE.

"WOLF BLITZER REPORTS" starts right now.



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